Lavish Honors for a Fruit Vendor : George C. Page, Founder of Mission Pak, Philanthropist

Times Staff Writer

The University of Southern California’s Jewel Gala II honoring George C. Page on Friday at the Beverly Hilton was one of those occasions best described as lavish.

Lavish: From the moment guests walked from the lobby into the Robb Friedline-transformed ballroom with its dramatic gold arches, large bouquets of white flowers everywhere and flower-adorned bird cages, each holding a pair of live love birds.

Lavish: That hors d’oeuvres table with its huge ice sculptures of the USC logo and bottles of champagne nestled at the bottom. There were the usual cheeses and vegetables, fresh oysters and shrimps, but at other tables there were also waiters cooking Chinese and Japanese goodies on the spot, and slicing carpaccio. (One white-gloved waiter apparently was assigned just to demonstrate--very graciously--how to eat this Italian beef.)


Lavish: Diamonds, rubies, emeralds larger than a man’s thumbnail adorning necks, ears and wrists of this tastefully moneyed crowd of 500; such classically chic designers as Jacqueline DeRibes, Galanos, Jean-Louis, Yves Saint Laurent adorning their backs.

Guest of Honor

Into all this walked the guest of honor, George C. Page, a slight man giving the appearance of both shyness and absolute delight that all this attention should be paid him. Trailing the honorary chairperson, a beaming Loretta Young, Page was to quip later that when he arrived in California “I didn’t know a single living soul and it’s most gratifying seeing now that I have so many friends.”

(Page arrived in California in 1916, a 16-year-old high school dropout, and made a fortune with an idea to send fruit packages to East Coast friends during the holiday season. He named this business Mission Pak. Now he is indulging himself with a number of philanthropies, among them the $4-million George C. Page Museum and La Brea Discoveries in Hancock Park, Childrens Hospital and financing more than a dozen students at USC’s School of Fine Arts. He was being honored for his involvement with the school.)

Jewel Gala II was sponsored by the Friends of Fine Arts, which was hoping to raise $350,000 with its $250-per-person dinner-dance for USC’s School of Fine Arts. (On Monday, interim director of development Peggy Parish could not report on how much the dinner actually made except to report that $200,000 in direct scholarship support had been raised.)

Though the lavish was spread thick, chairman Frances Franklin kept the event itself simple: dancing to the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, a gourmet dinner (cucumber ice, thick slices of veal and for dessert, crepes with orange sauce) and a retrospective of Jean-Louis fashions produced by June Van Dyke, featuring furs by Edward Lowell and jewelry by Tiffany, Frances Klein and Laykin et Cie.

This was a gathering of friends, and friends of friends--veteran supporters of USC, longtime acquaintances of Page and a large throng of Jean-Louis admirers. Yet it was a diverse crowd: Anna Bing Arnold holding court at a small table behind the ice sculptures, Lee and Cliff Witte mingling; Father Maurice Chase introducing people around, Suzanne and Joe Marx chatting with the Stephen Pettys; Dr. Kenneth Morgan hovering by the carpaccio table; Mrs. G. Allan Hancock chatting with her brother J. W. Mullen and friends Dr. Clifford Cherry with Mrs. Henry Dockweiler; USC dental school’s Dr. and Mrs. Leo Ward just watching the action from the middle of the cocktail area; Mr. and Mrs. Harry A. Liff (who with Fred Hayman, Gale Hayman, the Happy Franklins and the Eric Stanieks were benefactors for the evening) easing around the room.


Bradley Appearance

Mayor Tom Bradley appeared briefly before dinner, waiting quietly for Page to arrive, giving the honoree a scroll, then discreetly departing through the gold arches at the entry.

Clearly a Frances Franklin-run show runs to schedule. Everyone was in their seats promptly at 8, the fashion retrospective interspersed between the tortellini Alfredo and the veal, and a few minutes later, the official words from USC Dean of Fine Arts John S. Gordon and President James H. Zumberge. (Both in fact kept their speeches so short that neither mentioned USC was at the moment in its third overtime in basketball with UCLA.) A few words from George Page, then dessert.

Undoubtedly some people stayed on to dance, but most were making their goodbys by 10:45, a sure sign--as one Hancock Park old-timer observed--that this was a benefit in the finest Los Angeles tradition.